Tense action thriller Deadfall, starring Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde and Charlie Hunnam, is released in cinemas on 10th May so we sat down with Oscar-winning director to discuss Eric Bana’s glorious return as a villain, filming in snow storms and the appeal of dysfunctional families.
What attracted you to the story of Deadfall?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: That there’s more to it than you initially think. There’s very interesting characters, there’s these concepts of family – dysfunctional families – and also when I go to the movies myself, what I’m looking for is not a brainless blockbuster action movie, but an intelligent film that keeps you guessing.
Did you have anyone in mind to play the roles?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Sort of. I think pretty early on we tried to get Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson, because they felt like the iconic American parents, and I just loved this idea to have these people and this beautiful house in the wilderness and it all sort of came together. I met a lot of young actresses for the part of Liza, who is very complex and pretty interesting, and many actresses wanted to have it. I was very happy with Olivia because I think for that part, I wanted to have sort of a troubled spectacular beauty and not just a nice, girl-next-door type.
The main characters are very well defined, was it difficult to portray their depths?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Well that’s what it was all about, to show that these characters are complex, that they are multi-layered, and I had great people to work with and work on these characters. Eric Bana, Charlie Hunnam and Olivia Wilde are very intelligent actors, which always is great as they come up with a lot of additional ideas that we can discuss, and I always enjoy when there’s a lot of input from the actors.
Addison is a truly unnerving character, how did you go about bringing him to life on screen?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: Well of course Addison is based in the script but no, it’s Eric’s genius as an actor to find the balance between the character being funny at times, being very violent, very evil, but still likable. It is fascinating in a way and my experience is that audiences love him, even though he does these terrible things, as just this charming, elegant villain.
How difficult was it to film in the snowy conditions?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: It was a pain in the ass because it made everything more complicated. We were shooting for two months and sometimes it got too warm and the snow was gone, and then you had too much snow or the snow storms would happen and they are incredibly difficult conditions to work under. If we needed wind machines, they were so loud that it was difficult to communicate with the actors, and on the rare occasions that we needed to create the snow, it was made out of a sort of yeast thing for ecological reasons and it worked like glue. It was awful but still you have to try to stay focused even if you hate the conditions, you still have to say ‘let’s do it again, we can do it better,’ but next time I think I’ll do a film in a warmer climate. It looks great on film but we suffered for it.
The film was shot in a remarkably short time, how did you manage it?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: That’s the downside of commercial film making, you know at some point they say ‘oh by the way, we cut your budget. I hope you don’t mind,’ and whether you mind or not, they are still going to cut your budget and that’s the way it is and you just have to make the best out of it. The problem with a limited budget is that it means a limited schedule and this means ‘you better not make any mistakes’ because you don’t have the time, you don’t have the money to repeat things.
The balance you’ve achieved between thriller and family drama is very impressive, how did you manage this?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: I’ve done a lot of drama and a horror thriller, which was one of the most successful horror films in Germany, so I know both of these worlds and it felt pretty comfortable combining them.
The film builds up to the climatic thanksgiving dinner scene, why did you decide to make this the focus of the film?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: That was an interesting challenge, and it was always going be difficult to film a dinner sequence, because everyone’s sitting and not moving, which means that you have to create al the dynamics, all the drama. On an emotional level, you have to have great actors to help you do this; you don’t want to be repetitive so the audience thinks ‘well we’ve seen this shot before,’ so you try little changes to always be new and different with the space you have.
Did you want to explore family dynamics or did that come from the script?
Stefan Ruzowitzky: I found this out in retrospect, but apparently family is an issue that I like to work with, you know – the family dynamic – although I hadn’t been aware of it. It seems to be area I’m interested in and perhaps I should discuss this with a psychoanalysist. It was fun and interesting to deal with these issues in each of the characters because we all know these situations; we will at some point have problem with a close relative, there will be these power games with a father figure, we will know an over protective mother. Whether your family is functional or dysfunctional, in a way we’ll all have these problems in various degrees.
Deadfall is in cinemas on 10th May